Singapore poet Jee Leong Koh makes Financial Times' Best Poetry of 2015 list

Jee Leong Koh's fifth poetry collection Steep Tea has been selected as one of four works on the international daily The Financial Times' Best Poetry of 2015 list.
Jee Leong Koh's fifth poetry collection Steep Tea has been selected as one of four works on the international daily The Financial Times' Best Poetry of 2015 list.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - New York-based Singapore poet Jee Leong Koh's fifth poetry collection Steep Tea has been selected as one of four works on the international daily The Financial Times' Best Poetry of 2015 list, part of its list of the year's best books.

The other three poetry works recognised were: The Poems Of T.S. Eliot: The Annotated Text, Volumes 1 And 2 (Faber & Faber), edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue; Horace: Poems (Everyman's Library), edited by Paul Quarrie, and Jamaican poet Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric (Penguin Poetry).

Steep Tea, published by the British publisher Carcanet Press in July, is Koh's first poetry collection published in the United Kingdom. It sees Koh addressing themes such as identity, home and nostalgia, and features epigraphs by poets ranging from Cultural Medallion recipient Lee Tzu Pheng to the Irish writer Eavan Boland.

A poem from the collection titled In His Other House was also chosen as a Poem Of The Week in September by British newspaper The Guardian.

The FT's assistant arts editor Maria Crawford praised Steep Tea for being "disciplined yet adventurous in form, casual in tone and deeply personal in subject matter".

"Koh's verse addresses the split inheritance of his postcolonial upbringing, as well as the tension between an emigre's longing for home and rejection of nostalgia," she wrote.

Koh, 45, told The Straits Times via email that he was "amazed" and "humbled" at the recognition by the newspaper.

"I couldn't have written Steep Tea without moving to the US to come out as a poet and a gay man. The poems reflect the experience of finding my rightful place in New York. They were written over 12 years... You might say that I had to steep myself in hot water before brewing this cup of tea," he said.

Koh, who has a degree in English literature from Oxford University and now teaches at a private school in New York, is currently working on a book of haiku, tentatively titled Does grass sweat, as well as a book of essays.

He is also actively involved in promoting Singaporean writing abroad. He runs the biennial Singapore Literature Festival in New York and the arts website Singapore Poetry.

"Singaporeans should embrace our own writers. This involves reading, viewing, hearing, and discussing their works until they become an integral part of us," he says.

Steep Tea is available from Carcanet Press (8.99 pounds) or Amazon (US$14.99).

jianxuan@sph.com.sg